Search for #familytravel on Instagram and the happy faces of families on sandy beaches or touring theme parks say it all: Travel allows kids and parents to spend quality time bonding without the distractions of home.
But travel is also expensive. In the 2018 Family Travel Association survey, 69 percent of respondents who said they were unlikely or very unlikely to vacation with kids in the next 12 months said it was because they couldn’t afford it.
Though the cost of a family vacation last year ran between $1,000 and $5,000 for half of those who responded to the survey, experts say that should not deter those looking to hit the road. That’s thanks to key strategies they say can help defray the costs of travel without taking away from the fun.
1. Fly smart.
When you fly matters, not only when it comes to avoiding traffic on the way to the airport, but also which day of the week you elect to start your trip.
“Mid-week, Tuesday, Wednesday and sometimes Thursday, tends to be the least expensive time to fly, primarily due to supply and demand,” says Gone With The Family’s Lisa Goodmurphy. “Business travelers tend to fly at the beginning and the end of the week and leisure travelers are often flying out on Friday and returning on Sunday. If you can fly mid-week then you should find lower airfares.”
2. Choose the right accommodations.
For many families, the thought of spending hundreds of dollars each day on eating out while traveling makes even a weekend-long getaway seem out of reach.
One way around this: Book a private home or condo instead of checking in to a hotel.
“Lodging with kitchen facilities allows families to not only cook meals instead of eating out, but stock up on snacks and prepare ‘in between’ meals, and bring home leftovers,” says travel agent Suzette Mack. “Even if you don’t want to cook meals, it’s nice to at least be able to have breakfast there instead of going out. Also, it’s nicer for early risers to be able to have their coffee or juice and something to eat without having to wait for the rest of the family to get up.”
What’s more, the additional space to spread out reduces the friction that comes from family members spending too much time together in small quarters.
On the flip side, hotels often offer deals that might make a stay a more attractive option, such as an extra night’s stay if you meet minimum stay requirements. Jodi Grundig, Family Travel Magazine founder, says that in addition to sometimes being more affordable for shorter stays, hotels may offer perks and activities that cater specifically to families, which can mean a more relaxing vacation for parents.
“Look for amenities that your family will take advantage of, like pools, indoor water parks, game rooms, and complimentary breakfast,” she says. “You may also find hotels that have specific activities for families, like story times. If you are staying near theme parks, you may find that your hotel offers a complimentary shuttle to the parks.”
3. Understand money matters.
If you have a foreign destination in your sights, you’ll need to exchange money. But where you do so will impact the fees you incur. These are typically higher at foreign exchange kiosks or storefronts than they are at US-based banks or via some credit cards.
Because you’ll likely need some cash on hand for first-day cab rides, tips, and a couple bottles of water, Goodmurphy suggests exchanging enough money to get you through your first vacation day while you’re still at home, then using select credit cards — ideally ones without a foreign transaction fee — or ATMs.
“We change only a small amount of cash at home before we go,” she says. “Once we have arrived at our destination, we use a credit card for major purchases and a debit card to withdraw cash from a local ATM. I believe that we get better currency exchange rates this way.”
If you’re unsure of the transaction fee you may be charged, or whether you’ll be able to use your credit card overseas, check with your bank in advance of your trip, Grundig advises.
4. Think twice before getting a travel credit card.
The goal of saving money while on the road probably has you thinking of signing up for a travel rewards credit card. After all, these cards offer perks like premium points or miles on travel, dining and hotels, and standard points on other purchases like gas or groceries, plus introductory points which can reach upward of 50,000.
The rub? You’ll likely pay an annual fee after your first year of use, and face an APR that can reach 27 percent. That means that unless you are paying your card off right away, and plan plenty of spending on travel and entertainment categories, a card like this may be more of a hindrance than a help.
“In my opinion,” says Goodmurphy, “it only makes sense to take out a travel credit card if you are able to pay off the amount owing in full each month, otherwise the interest charges accrued will likely outweigh the benefit from the points accumulated using the card.”